Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Search Insider: Why Search Marketing Will Continue To Hold Its Own In A Recession

Why Search Marketing Will Continue To Hold Its Own In A Recession

AS IF WE ALL didn't already know, news reports all over the U.S. informed us on Monday that we are now officially in a recession, and have been in the middle of one since December 2007.  Despite the strangeness of such a coordinated and backdated declaration, this recession timeframe provides a clear look back at just how well the search channel has performed, and elevates its prominence in the advertising space.  

The ROI I'm seeing with clients is, for the most part, extremely disproportionate to other media channels in terms of overall ROI (read: it generates much higher returns on all fronts), and our clients are embracing search with renewed enthusiasm as a result.  Within this new recession timeframe, search has continued to thrive and grow for clients by leaps and bounds.  So why does search continue to hold its own one year into a full-blown U.S. recession?  Here are a few reasons why it has ruled the online space in a year of hard times, and will continue to rule in the future when the economic situation begins to improve as a whole:

Measurability.  Simply put, search marketing tactics and strategies, combined with solid analytics and other management tools, offer marketers the opportunity to see both the forest, and the tree leaves, if they so choose.  Approaches to measurement widely vary, but seeing a 10 cent click generate a $10,000 sale is quite an eye-opener.  So is discovering a $1 billion aggregate return from natural search over a one year time period, as some enterprises have accomplished in the last year.

Search queries prequalify the site visitor.  While search intentions may be split within a query or bucket of queries and funnels, good research helps advertisers target their ads or natural content strategies to a laser-sharp focus on the searcher, and offer the ability to target likeminded, laser-focused content with a higher degree and likelihood of conversion than other channels.  While not all queries convert on the first go, the opportunity to be selective about traffic from a linguistic perspective remains a distinctive characteristic of search.

Search traffic becomes an asset over time.  Once natural search traffic gets rolling, the returns often last for years.  Values can range from applying a relative cost-per-click to value the traffic, based on what the advertiser is willing to pay in paid search for similar category terms, to the actual revenue from the traffic.  Growing natural search traffic takes a different approach and amount of patience than in paid search media, but the payoff is a qualified traffic stream that delivers for years to come. Natural traffic still needs to be maintained closely, but the costs are nominal compared to overall returns.

Search is a fundamental touch point in the online experience.  The PEW Internet and American Life Project recently confirmed that search is a primary touch point with online users.  The bottom line is that search is a fundamental way to reach people online -- such as more than 90% of all online users.  

Search is equally accessible by all advertisers and marketers, large and small.  Search marketing is open to both enterprise marketers with $20 million in spend, and to the guy or girl sitting in their bedroom with a twenty-dollar budget.  There is no other advertising arena I know of where a small business advertiser can park their asset in natural or paid search right next to the biggest corporations on the planet.  In search, everyone is invited to play, and the masses are still coming over to embrace it as a key strategy, if not the primary strategy.

Search is the ad platform for future online advertising asset delivery.   The next time you read an industry report that separates search spending from online video spending and contextual ad spend, keep in mind that those other placements may still be predominantly served on auction-based, search-based delivery platform in the future.  So is it possible that the 40% of online spend attributed to the search channel is grossly underestimated?  You bet it is.  

The targeted relevance of the search channel.  Giving credit where it is due, the search engines themselves help us find what we need, when we need it.  Marketers fundamentally have the opportunity to take advantage of the search channel with either a long-term natural campaign, or with media spend in paid search.

In one other symbolic event in the online advertising world on Monday, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO) and Chairperson Dana Todd rang the opening bell at NASDAQ, on a day of historic decreases in overall market value.  On Monday, just as in the last year of recession, search marketing stands out as a positive light in the online advertising landscape amidst growing economic uncertainty.    

Rob Garner is strategy director for digital marketing company iCrossing and writes for Great Finds, the iCrossing blog. Contact him via email at

Search Insider for Wednesday, December 3, 2008:

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